Be Generous

Jason Harris is the author of Soulful Persuasion: The 11 Habits that will Make Anyone a Master Influencer.He knows about persuasion; he’s CEO of the creative agency Mekanism and the cofounder of the Creative Alliance. He’s worked with brands like Peloton, Ben & Jerry’s, Miller Coors, HBO, and the United Nations. He write the book to help people become more persuasive by being more authentic.

One of his principles is that generosity builds trust and relationships, both of which help you be persuasive. Harris defines generosity as the opposite of reciprocity, a well-known method of persuasion. Reciprocity is giving something in hopes of getting something – a classic sales technique.

Studies have shown that reciprocity works. One observed that restaurant servers who gave diners a free mint at the end of their meal saw their tips increase by 3 percent. Those who gave two mints—and mentioned to the diners that they were only supposed to give one—experienced a 14 percent tip increase.

But Jason Harris says that generosity is even more effective. “Be the kind of person who naturally thinks about giving things away. Attempt to leave every person you encounter with something valuable that they didn’t have before they interacted with you—a useful piece of information, some helpful advice, a gift that advances them, anything that might be valuable for them.” Put relationships over transactions.

One reason reciprocity isn’t a good strategy is that there’s no room for trust. Trust is what helps relationships endure when things don’t go as planned. We give generous people the benefit of the doubt when they can’t deliver as promised or when outcomes don’t match expectations. We sue transactional people; we give generous people a second chance.

Harris writes, “Generosity also helps overcome a major problem facing the tit-for-tat approach—namely, that you can never be sure who will be in a position to do you a favor in the future. If you only give to those you believe can help you, you’ll be much worse off in the long run than someone who is generous as a matter of course.”

He goes on to say: “Evolution has built us to be generous by default, on the off chance that the stranger in need of a jump-start today turns out to be the person interviewing you for a job tomorrow. By being habitually generous, you set yourself up to benefit from those happy accidents whenever they do occur.”

Harris also says we can strengthen our generosity like any other muscle: by exercising it frequently. “An individual who leaves you just slightly better off every time you encounter him or her is precisely the person who is likely to get your attention when they come to you with a proposition, need a favor, or want to change your mind about something. How do you become this type of person? Simple. Every time you interact with someone—whether it’s at a business meeting or at a family gathering, at a ball game or on a dinner date—try to give something away. Treat all of your encounters as a chance to be generous.”

And we’re not just talking about money, although picking up the tab is a generous gesture. In fact, Italians have created a tradition that embodies the idea of generosity. Neapolitans, especially if they’ve had a good day, will order a cup of coffee in suspense (un caffè sospeso.) When someone in need comes into the café, the barista gives a free cup of espresso on the house.

I think it’s a tradition we should adopt here – a chance to practice generosity every time we buy breakfast or drive through the coffee shop.

In a future post, I’ll share other ways to practice generosity.

1 thought on “Be Generous

  1. […] In a recent post, I encouraged everyone to be more generous. Generosity is not just a way to make the world a better place, it’s also the best way to build strong business relationships. Generosity is defined by sharing scarce resources, and almost no resources are more scarce than time and attention. […]


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